Category Archives: Ancient Machine

The Trabuco: From The Middle Ages To Modern Times

Warfare in the Middle Ages was a very different animal than that of today: instead of handguns and bomb-detecting robots, soldiers wore heavy armor and used swords. If a knight of the Middle Ages dropped his sword, he would be forced to use whatever he could grab. Hand to hand combat was a relatively simple affair: whoever was still alive in the aftermath was the winner.

Combat outside the battlefield, however, was a bit more complicated, especially if the knight’s enemy had a castle. Smashing one’s sword against rock walls was not only a complete waste of time, it would pretty much make the knight an open target for anyone in the castle.

Enter the trabuco, or catapult, a siege weapon developed by the Chinese around 400 B.C.E. but not introduced to Europe until about 600 AD. Other names for the machine include trebuchet and counterbalance blunder. The trabuco enabled invading armies to smash through fortress walls and pelt those inside the walls with a wide range of projectiles. On projectiles included sharp rocks, heavy metal balls, and diseased bodies on at least one occasion.

The trabuco was actually a simple machine to build, but not so easy to aim. It consisted of a large wooden arm mounted to a wooden wheeled base. A sling was attached to the arm in order to hold the rocks to be thrown at or over fortress walls. On the opposite side of the arm was a large counterweight that was pulled to allow the large sling to release its payload according to The counterweight, usually a large rock, had to be at least 100 times heavier than whatever was being launched from the sling in order for the machine to work properly. Aiming was almost nonexistent; the soldiers launched the sling by pulling ropes attached to the counterweight and hoped for the best.

Today the trabuco has become a teaching tool for demonstrating the effects of potential and kinetic energy. Huge trabucos are used for throwing pumpkins and miniature ones are built to complete any castle diorama. Countless schoolchildren around the world have learned about physics through studying and even building a trabuco.

Find more about Trabuco: